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COSHH risk assessment

COSHH risk assessment

Assessing the risks

To assess the risks, you must carry out The 5-step approach to risk assessments as recommended by the Health and Safety Executive. It's important that during this assessment, you pay particular attention to any hazardous substances used in the workplace. This assessment is sometimes referred to as a COSHH risk assessment.

You must also get information on each product.

You can find information on the safety data sheet that suppliers must provide with each product. You can also find information on product labels or you can speak to the manufacturer or supplier.

If COVID-19 is a hazardous substance in your workplace, your COSHH risk assessment must specifically cover the management and control of the COVID-19 risk.

Only someone with training and experience of COSHH and hazards and risks can carry out these risk assessments. If you don't have this person in your company, you should get specialist help.

Preventing and controlling risks

If possible, you should change the process or activity to avoid using or generating the hazardous substance. Otherwise, you should replace it with a safer alternative or use it in a safer form, after having first considered the new risks this might create.

If it's not reasonably practical to prevent exposure, you must control exposure by:

1. Totally enclosing the system or process

2. Developing safe systems of work or processes that minimise the amount of hazardous waste and by-products, and the chances of leaks, spills and escapes

3. Partially enclosing the process and handling systems, and using local exhaust ventilation (LEV)

4. Developing general ventilation

5. Using safe storage and disposal

6. Using Personal protective equipment (PPE) as a last resort or just to be careful in case the other control measures should fail

PPE can't be used as an alternative to any of the above and must be provided at no cost.

Workplace exposure limits

You must ensure that exposure to a hazardous airborne substance doesn't exceed the workplace exposure limit (WEL). If the substance causes cancer, inheritable genetic damage or asthma, you must reduce exposure to the lowest level as reasonably possible.

You can check the levels of WELs for a number of hazardous substances on the HSE website. (This guidance is used in Northern Ireland as well.)

Correctly applying the principles of good practice will mean exposure is controlled below the WEL. Advice on applying the principles can be found in the COSHH Approved Code of Practice (PDF). (This guidance is used in Northern Ireland as well.)

Controlling of particular hazards

You must keep exposure to substances that cause cancer, inheritable genetic damage or asthma to the minimum possible level.

Special requirements apply to carcinogens (substances that may cause cancer), or mutagens (substances which may cause heritable genetic damage). See Appendix 1 of the COSHH Approved Code of Practice.

If there is no WEL or if exposure can be by absorbing it through the skin or by swallowing it, you must set a minimum standard so that no one will fall ill. Before setting a standard, consider all appropriate information, e.g. safety data sheets, the Health and Safety Executives' (HSE, or HSENI in Northern Ireland) guidance, technical papers and occupational medicine/hygiene journals.

Ensuring that the control measures are maintained/used

You must keep any equipment used to control hazards clean and in good working order. You must ensure that these are properly used. Make sure all measures, such as workplace policies, are being applied.

A competent person must examine, test, review and maintain them as necessary and at suitable intervals. How often this should be done will depend on the degree of risk and how reliable the control methods are. Keep records of tests and examinations for at least 5 years.

Recording the risk assessment

Record the risk assessment and keep it readily available. Explain to employees the findings and the necessary steps to control exposure. How much you record depends on the risk.

Monitoring exposure

If the control measures aren't working, this could be a serious health risk. Measure the amount of hazardous substances in the air that has been breathed in so that you can make sure the WEL exposure limits haven't been exceeded.

You must do this unless you have another system for checking exposure, such as an automatic alarm.

Keep records of the exposure monitoring for 5 years. Keep any records specifically relating to individuals for 40 years.

Health checks

You can carry out a health check of your employees to find any adverse health effects as soon as possible. It involves collecting data to help find and evaluate health hazards. The data will be anything relating to their health, such as lifestyle information, eating habits, etc. You can then check that the current control measures are good enough and working properly. You can also assess the immunity of those employees working with biological agents or other hazardous materials (as they may need vaccinations).

When to carry out a health check

You must carry out a health check of all employees exposed to hazardous substances if:

  • It's reasonably likely that the working conditions could cause an identifiable disease or ill health; and
  • You can find this out without putting the employee at high risk.

You must pay for all health checks.

How to carry out your health checks

Provide suitable facilities for the employees to be examined. A trained doctor or nurse, or possibly a trained supervisor, must carry out the health survey. The procedure must be for the purposes of controlling exposure only and be as non-invasive as possible. It may include taking samples, measurements and clinical examinations.

You must judge whether the disease is likely to occur. Look at the frequency, duration and type of exposure. Also, consider toxicological data and compare them with other similar situations and studies.

If there is a possibility that ill-health effects could develop over time, you may need to continue your health checks even after the employee is no longer exposed. You should only do so if you can detect the ill health early on.

Keep records for at least 40 years from the last entry.

Accidents and emergencies

You must plan for any emergency accidents or incidents.

Plan set procedures and systems, such as emergency procedures and procedures explaining how to warn and notify employees and the emergency services, etc. You need to regularly practice safety drills, and you must provide appropriate first-aid facilities. Review, update and/or change your plans as circumstances change.

If a hazardous substance occurs and you couldn't control it, you must take immediate steps to minimise the harmful effects and tell employees who may be affected.

In emergencies, anyone not concerned with the emergency should leave the area. Anyone who must stay must have appropriate safety equipment, including Personal protective equipment.

When you don't need a plan for emergency

This type of plan isn't necessary if:

  • the quantities of the hazardous substance would only be a slight risk to health;
  • the current control measures are enough; and
  • the substance isn't a carcinogen, mutagen or biological agent.

Instruction, training and supervision

You must give your employees and those doing work for your business, such as contractors and agency staff, information on:

  • Hazardous substances — the names, risks, exposure limits, severity of hazard, safety data sheets, relevant legislation
  • Findings of the risk assessments — the likelihood, type, severity and risks of exposure
  • Factors that may increase the risks, such as smoking
  • Precautions that should be taken
  • Prevention and control measures, their purpose, and how and when to use them
  • PPE, the reasons for its use, and how and when to use it
  • Results of any monitoring
  • Employees' duty to go to any health surveys or training, the collective results (in a form that doesn't identify individuals) and how they can look at their own records
  • Any emergency procedures

You must also train them on how to use the control equipment/processes and the PPE and what to do during emergency procedures.

Reviewing the risk assessment

You must regularly review the assessment and consider ways to improve your control measures. How frequently you review will depend on the type of work or extent of risk.

More information

The COSHH Essentials' website gives free advice and has been developed for businesses to help them comply with COSHH.

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